April 3, 2009

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Sacred Heart's Hidden Gem

by Brian Logue | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Sacred Heart's Chelsea Wagner fell through the cracks in recruiting. She ranks sixth in Division I in save percentage for the 5-5 Pioneers.
© Sacred Heart University

A quick scan of the Sacred Heart women’s lacrosse roster reveals what you’d expect for a school from Fairfield, Conn. – a roster dominated by players from the tri-state area of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. But then you scroll to the bottom of the page and there’s that lone entry at the end — Chelsea Wagner from Aurora, Colo.

But geography isn’t the reason Wagner stands out. She stands out because she’s an outstanding goalie who has the Pioneers thinking about a second straight Northeast Conference championship.

“She’s big for us,” said Sacred Heart head coach Laura Cook. “She really is the leader of the defense.”

Wagner is a leader that Cook knows she was lucky to get. Wagner sent her a game film in March of her senior year of high school and Cook jumped on the opportunity.

“I could tell just from looking at the film that she could be a really special player for us,” said Cook. “Within a week she and her mom came out here for an official visit. I was pretty shocked she was still around.”

“I was getting looked at by Maryland, but then their coach (Cindy Timchal) went to Navy and I kind of got lost in the whole recruiting process,” said Wagner.

Wagner ended up starting 12 games as a freshman and then had a breakout season last year as Sacred Heart won its first conference championship. Wagner was named to the all-tournament team at the Northeast Conference championships and finished the season with a 52.0 save percentage. She matched her season-high with 15 saves in a loss to sixth-ranked Boston University in the NCAA tournament play-in game.

Even with many of the key players returning from that team, Sacred Heart was only picked third in this year’s preseason NEC poll.

“In our conference, people always underestimate us,” said Wagner. “Last year, we were picked fifth. They didn’t even think we’d make the tournament. We’re constantly having to prove ourselves. I think that’s more of why we rise to the occasion.”

Wagner and the Pioneers rose to the occasion when she made 14 saves in a 9-8 victory over preseason league favorite Quinnipiac in its NEC opener on March 22. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak, and has been the turning point for the season. Sacred Heart has won its last four games to improve to 5-5 and is 2-0 in the league.

“We played our out of conference games and we were losing,” said Wagner. “We have about 10 new freshmen on the team and it was kind of hard. They were getting down. After we won that game, we knew we weren’t out of it.”

“This year, our upperclassmen were putting too much pressure on themselves early on about being the defending champions,” said Cook.

Perhaps none more so than Wagner.

“We really had to sit down with her and talk about not putting too much pressure on herself,” said Cook. “She’s that kind of kid. She puts everything on herself.”

“I feel like I always put a lot on my shoulders,” said Wagner. “As a goalie, if you don’t play well, you feel like you lose it for your team.”

Cook’s words helped relax her and Wagner said she just tried to go back to the basics and not think so much. It’s obviously worked. She’s made 42 saves in the Pioneers’ current four-game winning streak and her 52.7 save percentage ranks sixth in Division I.

She’s had plenty of help. Seniors Amanda Williams and Mary Monesarchio and junior Carissa Hauser have combined for 70 goals and 38 assists to power the offense.

But the work is far from done. This afternoon, the Pioneers face an up-and-coming Robert Morris team that is averaging over 13 goals per game.

“With the way we started, we’re just focusing on making the playoffs,” said Cook. “We’re only 2-0 and we still have six conference games left. This — Robert Morris — is a huge game for us.”


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